Monday, February 16, 2015


Written as a submission for a Dragon Age-related fan contest, as well as because this is a universe I quite enjoy.

Some potentially required listening/reading, as to make sense of a reference:


The cabinet creaked as she closed the door, the final dish of the evening finding its resting place until the time came for it to be used again. Her eyes scanned the room as she took a moment to admire her work. It had taken plenty of time, the sun was setting by now, but the kitchen was nothing short of spotless. Or rather, as spotless as aging wood could get. The moment she allowed herself some small amount of pride did not get to last for very long, though, as there were still the final chores of the day to be done.

                The blaze in the fireplace needed fed once again, as it often did on such cold days, the kind that turned into much colder evenings. There were still windows and a door to bar. It was only after that was done that she could take a moment to relax, prior to turning in. Years ago she would have been able to make it deep into the evening and early morning of the next day, but that time had passed, with a more modest age having taken its place. She was surprised her husband still managed to get around as well as he did, considering his younger years had been spent with more punishing tasks.

                His absences, in this case he was away trading and bartering at the town down the hill for the coming days, always seemed to prompt her finding some way to keep herself busy for the day. One time she had managed to straight and dust each and every piece of furniture, while on others she had taken to tending to the hides her forgetful husband had left behind. Anything that could keep her occupied and her thoughts away from just how empty the house was anymore.

                Sparks jumped from the fire as she tossed in another log, prodding it with the nearby metal poker. She examined the pile to insure that there was enough to last through the evening, and decided that it would suffice. In the chance that her supply ran low, she was more than certain there were enough blankets around the house to keep herself warm through the early cold hours, rather than having to trek out in the dark in search of soggy, snow covered logs.

                The thought made her shudder. She was constantly reminded that in fact, it would not be dark, as there was always the light of whatever unholy hole had been torn in the sky weeks ago. For some it would have been an excellent reason to relocate but, whether from her stubbornness or her husband’s, they had remained firmly in place, without so much as a conversation regarding the topic. That didn’t stop the fact that there was not some terrifying presence in the sky now that had left a constant feeling of discomfort.

                Aside from the window she had been tossing a few pieces of rotting fruit out of, the others had remained shut for the day. The front door was a matter of tightening the deadbolt, and putting the wooden plank in its place. A grunt escaped her as she hoisted the heavy plank into position, brushing the dirt off her hands on her apron when the deed was done.

                With a sigh of relief, she lowered herself into her chair, scooting close to the fire and allowing herself to relax. She had nearly fallen asleep, before a knocking at the door woke her up. Followed by a demand to open the door.

                She muttered a mild curse under her breath, bringing her fist up to pound against the door yet again. “For the love of the Maker, open this cursed door!” The temptation of attempt to open it was more than present, though something told her that such a thing would only be met with failure. A shiver ran through her body. She was growing tired of these cursed mountains, and their cursed cold.

                Raising her voice, she attempted to imitate something resembling a Ferelden accent, “Please open the door. I mean you know harm, and am simply looking for a warm place to reside for the evening!” Despite having spent years at a time in Denerim, she was far from convincing. An actor she was not. When there was yet again no response, she raised her voice even further, “I know you are in there!”

                Behind the wood she heard a quiet grunt, followed by the sound of metal moving against wood. The door opened just wide enough for the person inside to peer out into the night. The shivering woman offered her politest smile, Orlesian accent obvious as she spoke, “Good evening, madam. I am Gillian Simonette, and if you would allow me into your home, I would be most gracious.”

                The older woman inside visibly gulped, eyes wide but stance firm as she opened the door further to allow the Orlesian in. She stared as the armored woman entered, immediately going for the fire, rubbing her hands together over it in an attempt to regain feeling in them, the armor she wore clinking as she went. A hood hid much of her head, and a sword was sheathed on her belt, and a shield rested on her back, which bore the mark of the Chantry.

                Gillian kneeled, huddling close as she could come to the fire, wincing at the ache in her hands as the feeling returned to them. She looked over her shoulder, offering a polite smile, “I thank you for this.” The older woman nodded, returning to her chair, fingers wrapping around its arms. Once she no longer felt as though pieces of her were at risk of falling off, Gillian stood, taking the second chair near the fire, turning it to where she could look to the woman as she spoke to her, “I did not get your name.”

                The woman bit her tongue for a moment, picking her words with care. “Emily Carol,” she said, opting for the truth. She released one of the chair’s arms, pointing towards her guest’s shield, “I do not think that is the average shield for a Templar.”

                Gillian chuckled, nodding her head in agreement, “I would assume that it is not the average shield of a Templar, but I am no Templar.” Her host’s brow rose, causing her to laugh yet again, “I’ve heard of the Chantry having more than Templar as their guard, especially those who are settled so firmly in territory where those old protectors have skirmishes now. But I am not among them either. I am of the faithful, but I travel of my own accord.”

                Emily frowned, nodding idly as she looked back to the fire, “You don’t say.”

                The wanderer tilted her head to the side somewhat. She blinked as she realized she had kept her hood up, taking a moment to bring it down, revealing blonde, crop cut hair. Coughing into her hand, she spoke with more care, “Would it matter if I were among the Templar’s ranks?”

                The older woman blinked, looking back to her guest. She slowly eyed her over, “I honestly do not know.”

                “I could understand how they could,” Gillian said, frowning, “They have stirred up a fair share of terrible events as of late.” Catching the woman frown, she added, “Not that the mages can be spared such an accusation either.”

                “I know,” Emily said, shaking her head.

                “Have any of them troubled you? Perhaps there is something to be done about such, before I continue on my way,” Gillian said. “It’s the least I could do for keeping me from becoming a frozen corpse.”

                Emily took her turn to laugh, though it was quiet and dark. After a time she nodded, “There are two who trouble me. They trouble me constantly, this mage and this Templar. Any time I so much as think of them I am troubled.”

                Gillian nodded in earnest, “And what do they do? Or have they done, I suppose?

                “Left home,” Emily said flatly, in something resembling a croak. She pointed towards the mantle above the fireplace, where sat an older painting. Gillian couldn’t help but note that the picture’s creator would have paled at the sight of something from across the mountains, before looking to the painting’s contents.

                “Roland was sent off when he was young,” she muttered, “We didn’t want to have hide and worry him. For his safety and ours, perhaps. At some point, and I cannot even begin to dwell on when or why, Lenora decided that she was meant for the Templar Order.”

                “Do they still,” Gillian started before pausing, biting her tongue before she continued the question.

                “I do not know,” Emily said.They sat in silence for a few minutes, before the home’s owner stood, heading off into another room, which Gillian could only assume was the bedroom.

Though she considered making pursuit for the sake of an apology, the younger woman remained where she was, both out of not wanting to make the situation any worse, and sheer exhaustion. It wasn’t too long before her eyes grew heavy, and not long after that that sleep overtook her.

                Gillian awoke to the smell of something cooking. For a moment, she kept her eyes shut, hoping once again that when she opened them she would not be in some strangers home, but instead that lovely Orlesian villa she had known for so long. Such had not been the case for working on a year, and was unlikely to change any time soon.

                Upon opening her eyes she was greeted with the same wooden home from the night before, along with its still crackling fireplace. She stood, making her way towards the scent of food, finding the woman from yesterday standing in front of an older stove, the table behind her partially set. Emily glanced over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps, offering her guest a small nod. Turning back to her work, she said “I assumed you would want something to eat before you left.”

                Gillian blinked, taking a seat, “I would not have asked, though I certainly will not say no.”

                The woman snorted, which was probably the liveliest reaction Gillian had yet gotten out of her, “Oh come now. As though you wouldn’t be starving.” She turned, placing a plate of meat in front of the younger woman, “So long as you like wolf, this should solve that problem.”

                Swallowing as her mouth watered, Gillian nodded, fetching a knife and fork from one side of the table, cutting into one piece of meat and taking a bite of it. She and chewed and swallowed the piece so fast that she barely had tasted the flavor before taking in another piece, and another. Her focus was so firm on the food that she neglected to note Emily, watching her ever so closely. When she finally noticed, Gillian swallowed, “Yes?”

                “What are you doing out among us mountain folk?” Emily said, whatever disinterest she had carried with her the night before having vanished with the moon.

                Gillian blinked, before pointing in the direction she recalled as northwest, “I’m making my way up to Haven.” She continued working at the meat in front of her as it vanished piece by piece, until nothing was left.

                Emily shook her head, “And why would you be daft enough to do that.” If it had been meant as a question, Gillian struggled to tell.

                Pushing her plate forward and taking up a napkin, Gillian dabbed her lips, “Because that is where I must go. That is where many should go.”

                The older woman laughed, slapping a hand against the table, “If you enjoy the thought of a hole in the sky, and who knows how many demons, then yes. As I’ve heard, there is little left near Haven, and I would expect less to be left if you make it.”

                Gillian gave a broad smile, shaking her head. She spoke as a child might of one they idolized, “The Inquisition is there. And if I am lucky, and make haste, I shall be able to get there before they have completed their work with the Breach.”

                Emily blinked, squinting, “And what in the Maker’s name is this ‘Inquisition’?’

                Her guest leaned forward, as though to share gossip, “It is said that they seek to close the Breach, and mend this conflict, and restore the faithful’s trust, and that they are led by one who walked from the Breach itself. One who was saved by Andraste herself, and who heralds her cause now.”

                Emily’s face darkened at the words, “Perhaps they also have walked amongst the Maker, and have word from him that no other has heard. Or perhaps they’ve some old scripture with which they seek to enlighten the masses. Anything to put impressionable people on a pilgrimage into the mountains.”

                Gillian frowned, standing, “I am afraid that, though such could be the case, I cannot believe it.” She bowed to her host, “I do hope that things become better for you in these darker times, though, and that they may be brightened.”

                “Because someone has told you this, or because you honestly believe such?”

                The wanderer smiled, “Because I believe such. I am of the faithful, as I have said prior. Though trying times, I cannot let that tear at my faith. We are taught that such will improve.” She pointed towards the ceiling as she backed towards the door, “Look towards the sky, misses Carol. The dawn is coming, and I am of the firm belief that the Inquisition shall be those who bring it.”

With that, she turned and exited the house. As she turned right, continuing up the road, Emily bowed her head, muttering “Maker, keep that girl alive. She’s just the type of person you want talking in your favor.”

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Closed Doors (Part 3)

Part 1

Part 2


            “So let me get this straight,” Frank said, looking the screen over. “We've got a missing crate of off-worlds. Got that. Carryin' minerals. Boys did a pretty crappy job if you ask me.”


            Alan nodded, “That's what I said.”


            Frank raised a brow slightly, “And how'd that go for you?”


            “Still breathing, so she didn't take it too bad obviously.”


            Frank rested backward in his chair, slowly stroking his chin. The table in front of him had been cleaned of plates, and now had been promoted to the position of being the resting place of a number of coffee cups and small tablets, each with some flickering bit of information. Some covered up-and-coming news from around the district, or rather the edited version of whatever had originally been sent to be broadcasted. Others held local sports scores and betting rates for whatever underground movement was going at the moment. To most it was a mess of the highest order, with somewhat interesting or useful information sitting alongside boring statistics and stale coffee mugs.


            There was some saying Alan recalled from some documentary he had caught some time prior that went on about the look of animals in their natural habitat, how they knew the territory and how to navigate it by heart. It was that same look one could get when Frank Coban actually put himself to working. Once all the food had been stuffed away, the work finally had room to get done.


            Frank picked up each tablet one at a time, flicking through whatever he was looking at with the thumb of the hand that held the device, sipping coffee from the cup he was clutching in the other hand. Every now and then he might pick up another device to make a note or two, before the process began again. Recent movements of merchandise. Security camera feeds. A few black market forums. Everything was at his fingertips with the correct connections, and anyone worth their salt had those connections. Frank Coban just so happened to be well worth his weight in salt.


            Alan slowly drummed his fingers on the table, focus firmly on the distant skyway. There had been a time when watching his informant work induced at least some amount of awe in him, but that time had long since passed. By this point he knew fully well that it was far more productive to sit back and let the man do his job. From there, he could start doing his.


            A solid hour had passed before Frank put down a tablet for a final time, took one last pull from his drink and set it aside as well. He began stroking his chin again, resuming his leaned back position. Alan pulled himself away from his thoughts, coming back to the café, eyebrow raising. The question was obvious: What did he find?


            It was rather obvious that Frank was picking his words carefully. His mouth opened a few times before he closed it again, having not been content with his word choice. He brought a hand up, signaling Alan to remain quiet for a moment, “For the love of God, Al. Please. For the love of God, don’t get all worked up.”


            Alan took in a slow breath, leaning forward, his eyes boring into Frank. There was a slight movement in his mouth as his tongue placed itself between his teeth, hands motioning Frank to go on.


            Frank rolled his eyes, refraining from commenting on the actions, instead focusing on his findings. He tapped the tablet that held his notes, “There is absolutely nothing on any of these materials.” Across the table, Alan brought his hand to his mouth, a number of obscenities escaping his lips as he stared up at the ceiling. Ignoring the reaction, Frank continued, “And I mean absolutely nothing. No mention of any new black market shipments. Nothing from the security cameras. No big buyer callouts. I couldn’t even find anything to say it might’ve been shoved back off-world. There isn’t anything around that’s telling me that this stuff is on the move, or has even been moved. If you asked me, which you are thank you very much, this stuff practically doesn’t exist.”


            Alan blinked a few times, cocking his head to the side to be able to read the numerous notations Frank had made about the phantom goods, “So either we’re working with people who are good at this, or this stuff straight up doesn’t exist.”


            Frank shook his head, “Oh no. It exists. Or at least, it did. There is firm documentation of it coming on world and getting shipped, stored, and locked up. Somewhere between here and there, though, it just stops existing. Poof. Gone. Vanished.”


            “Let me guess,” Alan muttered, “No security footage of it being moved?”


            The other man nodded, pouring himself another cup of coffee, “Nope. There are graveyards with more active camera feeds than that place. Guards are just doing their little lazy patrols. Cross in front of the storage box a few times, but besides that? Nothing.”


            Alan held a hand out, waiting for a certain tablet to be handed to him, “Got names for those guards?”


            Frank offered him one of his devices, which was snatched from his hand, “Figured you would want them. Managed some of their regular hangout places, too, since I assumed you would want to go harass them about it.”


            He smirked as Alan rose from the table, heading for the door with a quick mutter of “You know me so well.”

            To say the section of town he had been directed to was shady was an understatement of the highest order. Hidden at the edge of the Myers-held district, the collection of back alleys and side streets were left under the constant shade of overhanging roofs and awnings, leaving all but a few areas in a state of near night. It was a place where the streetlights never went off, and the night stalkers never needed to turn in.


            He had popped up his collar to conceal the lower half of his face before he had even entered into the neighborhood, knowing full well that fitting in in this territory meant looking like you had something to hide. He couldn’t count the number of alleys he walked past that had some suspicious looking character, even by the standards of his own field, either in the middle of a deal or looking to make one. Under almost every streetlight he passed by stood some working man or woman, their attire leaving little to the imagination.


            Years ago a place like this would have made him think. Every single building and street around him was owned by either the company that owned the district, or the person at the head of it, and yet it was allowed to dip into the things that may have been taboo in other parts of the district. Some time ago he had figured out that this kind of thing was allowed for multiple reasons. There were some people who made sure to dig their fingers into it and scrap out a profit for themselves, while other owners might have made a few trips there themselves to take part in some of their favorite vices.


In the case of Allison Myers, it was nothing short of apathy, and it showed throughout the rest of the district as well. The further out one stretched from the view of her tower, the less it concerned her. A very ‘out of sight out of mind’ type of person, and it showed. So this little dark part of town was allowed, and it wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.


The sign of place he was looking for had a fair share of letters out. His hands went into his pockets as he approached it, catching the eye of a few of the people standing outside. Walking through the smoke of the cigarettes he pulled the door open and let himself into, not wanting to take the time to have to deal with some stray drunk who was bound to get uppity about a stranger walking into ‘his’ bar.


Music was drifting out of a few unseen speakers, mixing in with the sounds of whatever programming was being broadcast on the screens to his left, mounted over a number of bottles, in front of a bar of multiple customers. The only people who gave him the time of day as he entered were a few at tables who had been either chatting amongst themselves, or sitting alone. He pulled something from his pocket, a small, flickering device with a picture on it, before sliding it back into its previous resting place. Scanning the crowd, he spotted his mark at the back of the room, having what appeared to be a rather active conversation with what Alan assumed was some work buddy, as the two were laughing their heads off at some unheard joke.


The information Frank had been able to give him had been somewhat surprising, and somewhat discouraging. For the most part the guy, one Hugo Linus, had a near spotless record. Through some stroke of luck, despite guarding some of the most valuable stuff around, the guy had managed to not make too many waves. Aside from getting arrested for a bar fight here and there, usually with the description of “Pointless disagreement” from whoever had done the booking.


He made his way towards the rear of the room, weaving in and out among the tables, grabbing a chair and sliding it up right up to his target’s table. The two already at the table turned towards him, offering only a glare. Alan returned the glare with a casual smile, resting against the table as if he were meeting with friends of his own, “Evening fellas.”


The two exchanged a glance and a grunt, before the one he assumed was Hugo spoke up, his voice a constant slur, “Whatda you want?”


The interloper maintained his friendly demeanor, “To ask a few questions and get out of your hair. You two work down at the shipping yard, right?”


The second man nodded, flashing a smile as he shot another glance at his friend, “Do. And ‘fore you even get to the rest of your questions, we didn’t steal nothin’, we ain’t gonna steal nothin’.”


Alan raised a brow. It wasn’t surprising that they knew what he was going to ask. Maybe if they were deeper into their drinks, instead of still being sober enough to know which side of the bottle went in their mouths. “That a fact.   Well how about anything out of the ordinary you could tell me about that night, then.”


Hugo let out a laugh, “You a cop or something?”


“More into private investigation than police work,” Alan said.


The friend let out a laugh, “Retriever.”


Alan gave a shrug, before nodding, “That’s one word, yeah.”


Hugo brought an arm out to wrap around Alan’s shoulder as though he had known him for some time. “Let me tell you, there was nothing off about that night. Didn’t see nobody go near anything, before or after it got locked up. Gone when they did inventory the next morning. Can ask anybody.”


“Then what the hell happened,” Alan said flatly. “Stuff just vanished? Teleported away? Turned invisible? If no one went near it, then what the hell happened?”


The security guard only grinned wider, letting Alan go as he shrugged his shoulders, “Not a clue.”


“Look, pal,” Alan growled, “We both know this stuff doesn’t just get up and scram, so if nobody touched it.” He paused, looking between the two, eyes widening. Hugo sighed, tapping his bottle against the table. Alan slid his chair back along the floor, making to stand, muttering “Well shit.”


There was a dull flash under the table as Hugo’s friend drew a knife out from his pocket. Grinning, he pointed towards the chair, “Have a seat, man. Don’t get up and leave just yet.” Hugo continued tapping his bottle against the table, holding it by the neck now, nodding in agreement.


Alan gulped, taking a small step to the left. The other two stood, neither catching the notice of the rest of the bar. There always had to be moments like this. Moments where someone got ticked off and started resorting to the old classic, violence. He sighed. There were probably worse methods.


Grabbing the table, Alan shoved it backward as best he could, turning as the two grunted, a few curses escaping their lips as he went. He could hear the sound of feet hitting wood behind him and caught the look of a few shocked customers as his two pursuers drew closer.


He brought his arm up to brace himself as he bit the door, sending it swinging right into one of the people who had been standing around it when he had entered. Glass broke as it made contact, and what was left in it hit the ground alongside the shards. Amongst “Heys” and “What the hells” he made his way to the street, breaking into a sprint before he had a mob on his tail.


The other two exited shortly after he did, as told by their raised voices as they told him to stop, probably directed to him by whoever he had just squished behind a door. Footsteps echoed down the street, one man having his lead on the other two swallowed by their hot pursuit. A few of the idle working people took the opportunity to watch them go by, others not seeing it as worth their time to get caught up in anyone else’s problems but their own. If he were paying them any mind he would have given them credit for how dedicated they were to their job.


A few blocks were all he needed. A few blocks and he would enter back into the section of the district that had fewer decaying buildings and cracked streets and more security cameras. Based on how close the footsteps behind him were getting, that wasn’t going to happen. As he felt a hand get a grip on the back of his coat, he dropped forward into a roll, pulling his arms from its sleeves, hat flying off somewhere onto the street.


He let out a cough, rubbing the arm he had landed on as he stood again. Noting the two thugs doing the same his coat still in their hands, he took off again down a nearby alley. Curving left and right, he continued on paying little mind to the shouts demanding that he stop. Instead he kept on going until he was greeted by the front door of the Myers Shipping headquarters.

            Allison gave a coy smile as her eyes scanned over the report that had just been handed to her, waving off the messenger as though he didn’t even exist. When she was finished she set the report aside, resting forward against her desk, “Under our nose the entire time.”


            Alan nodded, seated in one of the two chairs, “All one big scam.”


            She nodded, “We’ll be looking into taking those involved in.” A smirk made its way onto her lips, “I imagine there are a number of ways we can get them to inform of their cohorts.”


            “I’m sure there are,” he deadpanned.


            Her smirk widened, “But that isn’t what you want to talk about, is it.”


            “Not particularly, no.”


            She rolled her eyes to feign annoyance, “Money money money. That’s all it is with you Alan. You skip all the fun parts.” She began flipping through her report again, “I don’t recall posting a price on this.”


            “Three,” he said, no change in his tone.


            Allison looked up at him, an eyebrow raising, “Three thousand?”


            He nodded, leaning forward in his chair, “Three thousand. That’s combining labor, contacts, and all of that. Plus counting in the price of the goods.”


            For once her expression hardened as she considered his words. Despite what he just said, he knew that it wasn’t his place to be making any sort of demands. Especially since she could snap her fingers and have someone toss him through her window without batting an eyelash, with no repercussion against her. A few moments passed, before she nodded, waving him towards the door. Her voice resumed its teasing tone as she spoke, “Fair enough, I suppose. I couldn’t sleep tonight if I told you no.”


            He let out a sigh of relief, nodding as he made his way for the exit. He could hear the grin in her voice as she spoke to him, “I have to say, Alan. I do love the ‘less is more’ look on you. I mean all that big old coat does is hide the rest of you.” Alan bit his tongue, doing his best not to make eye contact as he waited for the elevator doors to close and his descent to start.


            He set his coffee cup off to the side, instead deciding to focus on the blurs zooming by on the skyway. Whatever was done to produce coffee here, he was more than certain it needed to be made illegal, as to force them into finding a way that was less terrible. Alan had managed to dig out an old green shirt to replace the one he had been wearing the night before. Aside from that, and the fact that his coat had been left behind on some scummy city street, nothing about his attire had changed.


            Frank was, once again, late. But that was just bound to happen. Frank Coban worked in a separate time zone than everyone else, whether from having lived in one place for too long, or from a natural tendency to sleep in. When he did show up, Alan would complain. The two would exchange a few verbal jabs, Frank would order whatever large amount of food he was going to shove into his mouth for the morning, and then they could get to business.


            This morning’s business was going to be quick and clean, though. There was no job offer on the table, at least for the time being. There was no evidence to poke through, no shady people to investigate, and nothing that needed tracked down at the moment. Instead, there was money to be split. Enough money that he would be able to afford a way off of this rock, something that Frank would likely opt to do himself. Their destinations would likely align as well, since the both of them had ventured out from the same set of planets in the past year or so.


            In spite of what he might tell someone else, especially someone he didn’t know, that was a good thing. It meant that when he started taking work there, he would already have a contact. He would already have someone who knew the territory, just like Alan did, and knew who to call, poke, or listen in on for the sake of information. Which made his job all the easier, even if it meant splitting the profit.


            The bell over the café’s door jingled as it opened. Frank made his way to his spot, grin already on his face. “Well aren’t we looking rough this morning,” he stated, waving down the waitress. “Get mugged or something?”


            “Close enough,” Alan replied, “Nothing that I can’t replace, at least.”


            Frank nodded, laying out his order to the waitress who then retreated back into the kitchen, probably to converse with the cook while he worked. Once she was gone he looked back to Alan, “We’re gettin’ paid though, right?”


            “We’re getting paid.”


            “And how much are we getting paid?”


            Alan took his turn to grin, pointing towards the skyway, “Enough to get off out of town.”


            Frank managed to grin even wider, “Oh really now? And what’s the plan after that.”

            “Get another job."